David Niven’s Skiwear in The Pink Panther

David Niven and Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther (1963)

David Niven and Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther (1963)

Vitals

David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton, urbane master jewel thief

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, Winter 1963

Film: The Pink Panther
Release Date: December 19, 1963
Director: Blake Edwards
Wardrobe Supervisor: Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Going skiing this weekend? A surprisingly stylish look at elegant mid-century ski culture comes from The Pink Panther, the 1963 comedy crime caper starring David Niven that would spur a series of sequels focused on the bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers).

Clouseau was initially meant to be a secondary character, a foil to Niven’s suave, sophisticated jewel thief, “The Phantom”. However, Peter Sellers’ performance was a breakout hit, and a second film—A Shot in the Dark (1964)—was immediately put into production with a primary focus on Clouseau to the total abandonment of the other characters and plot points, leaving The Phantom and Clouseau’s ex-wife Simone (Capucine) free to spend a life of larceny together.

What’d He Wear?

As part of his plan to steal “The Pink Panther”, rumored to be the most valuable diamond in the world, Sir Charles Lytton travels to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the fashionable ski resort town in the Italian Alps that also served as the setting for movies like Ash Wednesday (1973) with Elizabeth Taylor and For Your Eyes Only (1981) starring Roger Moore as James Bond.

“I am sure that this sport owes something of its popularity to the attractiveness of the costume. The tight trousers and the sweaters are very much part of the picture of modern dress,” wrote Sir Hardy Amies of skiing in his seminal tome, ABC of Men’s Fashion, published just months after The Pink Panther was released in theaters. “It has been admitted that the best outfits come from abroad, where the mountains are. And it is from there that the fashions come. We must not be too proud to learn from them.”

It’s on the slopes at Cortina that Sir Charles carries out the first phase of his plan to steal the diamond from its owner, the glamorous Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale), by making her acquaintance then dramatically skiing in pursuit of the man who kidnapped her dog. For this, Sir Charles dresses in his usual ski attire of a colorful v-neck sweater layered over a fitted black lightweight turtleneck jumper. “It should be noted that two thin sweaters are warmer and far less cumbersome than one thick one,” wrote the esteemed Sir Hardy, suggesting a black polo-necked shirt as the thin inner layer, similar to what Niven wore on screen.

Sir Charles’ outer layer is a raglan-sleeve sweater in bright scarlet red ribbed knit wool with red, black, gray, and white striped piping on the deep V-neck line, both cuffs, and around the waist hem.

The Phantom, looking cool and determined for an action-packed day of skiing.

The Phantom, looking cool and determined for an action-packed day of skiing.

The key is, of course, set by the trousers. Aided by stretch-clothes these must be skintight and smooth everywhere. Refinements of cut and fit can only be achieved by specialized bespoke tailors (the best are in the more elegant resorts, such as St. Moritz and Davos; but some excellent ones come from London, too); but the stretch-cloth is a great help to the off-the-peg trade. All such trousers are correctly made in dark colors, as pale ones soil at the first fall. It follows, therefore, that black and dark blue are greatly used and nothing looks better against the white snow.

— Sir Hardy Amies, 1964

Again consistent with Amies’ recommendation, Sir Charles wears plain black ski pants. Combined with his black turtleneck, it evokes the villainous look of his “cat burglar” persona that he merely covers with a brightly colored series of sweaters; if he would remove the sweater, he looks just like he does scaling rooftops and breaking into safes as The Phantom.

Seen only briefly as he takes off down the hill after Princess Dala’s dog, Sir Charles wears his ski pants tucked into a pair of black ski boots with red laces.

PINK PANTHER

The heavy sweater, worn in lieu of a bulky coat, keeps Sir Charles warm while giving him greater mobility. Thus, the only additional items he needs to protect himself from the cold are his plain black headband and his red leather ski gloves with black trim.

"Leave this to me, ma'am," Sir Charles assures Princess Dala before skiing down the hill after a dognapper.

“Leave this to me, ma’am,” Sir Charles assures Princess Dala before skiing down the hill after a dognapper.

Sir Charles’ futuristic wraparound sunglasses appear to be the fashionable Renauld “Spectacular” model that evolved from the Space Age-inspired Sol Amor sunglasses pioneered over the previous decade. Famous Renauld wearers include ’60s style icons like Jacqueline Kennedy and Elvis Presley, whose own pair from Follow That Dream (1962) was auctioned in August 2017.

These chrome-framed shades with their scratch-resistant, “bubble wrap”-style Orama IV lenses became popular as early sport sunglasses designed to “protect your eyes on the beach, the ski slopes, or behind the wheel of a car” according to a 1965 advertisement heralding Renauld International eyewear as the preferred choice for TWA pilots. (Read more about the history of Renauld sunglasses here!)

PINK PANTHER

The previous day, when surveilling his the princess (and her dog), Sir Charles wears a bright yellow widely ribbed V-neck sweater over his usual black turtleneck and ski pants. We also see that he seems to coordinate his gloves to his sweaters, here wearing a pair of mustard yellow-and-black leather ski gloves that echo the layers of his top half.

Sir Charles sets his nefarious kidnapping plan in motion.

Sir Charles sets his nefarious kidnapping plan in motion.

Evidently, this aesthetic would be echoed by his nephew George (Robert Wagner) when the young man attempts to seduce Simone Clouseau (Capucine) during a madcap night hopping between bed, bath, and beyond, though George’s sweater is more of a mustard yellow than the bright neon shade worn by his uncle.

George Lytton not only borrows his uncle's layered style, he also hopes to get his hands on his mistress.

George Lytton not only borrows his uncle’s layered style, he also hopes to get his hands on his mistress.

How to Get the Look

David Niven and Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther (1963)

David Niven and Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther (1963)

The Pink Panther was made in the waning years of luxury skiwear, when jet-setters spent their winter days on the slopes before decadent après-ski evenings. Thus, Sir Charles Lytton’s ski sweaters have a colorful elegance to them, a byproduct of both the era and David Niven’s own sense of refinement.

  • Red ribbed-knit wool raglan-sleeve V-neck sweater with red/black/gray/white piping
  • Black lightweight knit turtleneck jumper
  • Black ski pants
  • Black ski boots with red laces
  • Black headband
  • Renauld “Spectacular” sport sunglasses with chrome wraparound frame and rounded amber Orama IV lenses
  • Red leather ski gloves

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

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2 comments

  1. josephcrobertson

    Thanks for this! This is a favorite wintertime movie of mine. I actually slightly prefer this to A Shot in the Dark, though both are plenty charming.

    Liked by 1 person

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